Thomas “TomSKa” Ridgewell is a writer and director, internet personality, and creative visionary, who produces comedy sketches and action flicks online. On December 6th 2014, KatataK was released, a game designed and envisioned by Tom himself, and developed by Pixel Spill Games. It’s been over a year since the game’s release, and I thought I’d catch up with Tom about how the game has fared over time and discussion about decisions made throughout the development process.

katatak_tomska

George: How would you describe KatataK to somebody who’s never heard of it before?

Tom seems to stumble over his words at first, but very quickly breaks into the swing of things.

Tom: I guess the way I’d describe Katatak is a side-scrolling tower defence game, so it’s kinda made to look like a side-scroller, really it’s a tower defence. You’re just going towards the enemies, but in a kind of retro, 16-bit style, so a retro-16-bit-side-scrolling-tower-defence… thing. I guess technically that’s what it is? Shoot-em-up. That’s the play style of it, but the game itself is shooting cats. Shooting evil cats from space, ‘cos it’s fun.

George: Splendid! So, I’m right in assuming then that the game is heavily influenced (?) by Holy Shit Cats, your sketch?

Tom: Yeah, well the ideas actually came around at the same time, but it was then put on hold for like two, two-three years until I actually managed to get it into development. So yeah, they were kinda made to go hand in hand, but yeah, didn’t quite happen as planned.

“Shooting evil cats from space, ‘cos it’s fun.”

George: Were there any other inspirations for the game outside of the sketch? How did these ideas come about?

Tom: Honestly? I was on a walk through a field, when I just thought, “I should do a video of shooting cats,” then I wrote the whole thing (Holy Shit Cats) on my phone, and that was it, that was the whole thing. This was back in the day when I had thoughts naturally and I didn’t have to drink a gallon of Red Bull to have any ideas. So yeah it sorta just came out in one complete piece. I was approached by a company quite shortly after Holy Shit Cats, saying “oh, we wanna make a game for you,” and I thought oh wicked, cool, I have this video, and it’d be great to do a game about it, and I immediately sketched an idea of what would eventually become KatataK, but then they went quiet for two years so I ended up just making it on my own.

katatak_holyshitcats

George: So I followed the development process through the vlogs you uploaded a while back before the game’s release. You go into a fair bit of detail in these videos, but how did the development process affect yourself and the team in everyday life and just in general?

Tom takes a moment to pause and think.

Tom: It’s a learning experience. There was, well I’d say that the biggest factor was that it was a big strain on a couple of friendships. Unsurprisingly I think that’s with any project, y’know, they tell you not to go into business with your friends because of this exact reason, the second things do what they do in every project in that they start to go wrong, become delayed, suddenly everyone starts getting angry, and it’s not easy to communicate that with someone who’s a friend first. But I think, I mean physically the strain wasn’t on me, it was on the the guys over at Pixel Spill. They were pulling all-hours, one of them was working with a broken hand, David, y’know it was, it was madness. So, it was just a big mess.

He finishes his explanation with a chuckle.

George: So, obviously Katatak’s the first project in the games industry that you’ve gone into as a thing. How did the process differ to your expectations? Did you have any expectations going into the project?

Tom: Well I mean, it differed in terms of, it took twice as long as was originally pencilled in, but, no, really I figured it couldn’t be much more going into it than what we’d originally planned. My part was always to come up with the ideas, write everything down, and them (Pixel Spill) then develop the game while I work with with my team to do sound design and music and all that jazz. It was exactly as I thought it would be. There’s only so many facets that go into quite a simplistic game, but yeah, I actually really enjoyed the creative process. My involvement with the game was actually pretty much done about six months before the game came out. We’d got the sound design done, the music done, all that jazz, voice acting, it was all in the first few months, and then every week on the phone, just “how’s it going? Is it done? Alright, I’ll call you in a week!”

katatak_gameplay

George: It’s been quite a while since the game’s release on the market. How has it fared, and are you happy with how it’s been received?

Tom: Yeah I mean, it’s fared, I mean I don’t want to be such a Debbie Downer, but it fared fine. I think the biggest potential downfall of it was that it was sort of prematurely hyped? We’d done and had these plans, build people up for it, get people excited for it, and finish it all off with this big live-action trailer, but it ended up not happening because of that extra five-six months. We did all this hype stuff and then everything went silent, and by the time the game actually finally came out, I think we were all so tired and I’d lost some faith in the project and I didn’t then spend for the big expensive live action trailer, so it was a very soft release. I think that was a problem. But y’know, it did just fine, it made it’s money back, nobody looks at it and says “we’re not proud of it,” we’re all proud of it, it made it’s money back, but it didn’t do well enough to justify me jumping straight into another thing. It was enough for me to go, “hey, that was really fun, I’m going to go back to what I know now, at least for a while.”

George: In regards to other projects in the near-future, are you gonna continue sticking with what you usually do for a while more, are you interested in making more games in future?

    Tom rustles about his desks and procures a stack of paper stapled together at the corner.

Tom: So I have my project bank here, and, hmm, what page, right near the end?

     He flicks through the pages, and comes across what he was looking for.

“People keep telling me to make it and that makes me want to make it less.”

Tom: Yeah, video games. So I actually have plans for four other games, varying in intensity. Before KatataK was even done I’d already kinda had plans for KatataK 2 if it was going to blow up, and then be like “wow, now I can double-down and make an even bigger game,” I wanted to make Katatak Invasion, which was gonna be more of a top-down RTS kinda thing? Not hardcore like Command and Conquer, but more like Kingdom Rush and Frontiers. That’s kinda on-hold at the moment. I had loads of plans for it, loads of character development trees and stuff like that, and I’d really like to do that at some point. I immediately had a plan for another game, a side-scrolling hack-and-slash called Stabby Stabby Runner Runner Princess, which we actually got into pre-production for, we got a batch of concept art done, we got some test music, but I think I’m just nervous to jump into another game? And then of course I have a number of ASDF games that I’m honestly not that interested in doing because I know they’d do fine, and I feel like I’ve oversaturated the world with ASDF content, so there’s no rush. At all. People keep telling me to make it and that makes me want to make it less.

Tom lets out a chuckle.

George: Yeah, I know that one. Bringing it back to KatataK for a moment. The game has a roster of characters, one of which is a hispanic trans man. What struck you to write the character, and tell me about the character as well.

Tom: I mean, I guess putting it bluntly, risking being insensitive, I kinda just wanted to. Well basically I had this huge ensemble of characters, I had to come up with ten characters and the first character is me, it’s the TomSka game, so we had that as me. So there’s your straight white male. And I guess I just wanted to write everything else. I wanted to do, at risk of sounding insensitive, wanted to do one of everything. Jumping around different continents, different sexual orientations, it has no relevance to the actual narrative, but I figured, eh, it shouldn’t have to. I’ll just whatever. I’ve done that in other works, where I’ve decided, “this character’s gay,” because fuck it, it didn’t occur to me that they could be gay and yeah. So I do stuff like that a lot these days, where I randomly diversify for the fun of it. Really not just a huge thought, just “eh fuck it, why not?”

katatak_nicholas

George: Fair enough! So, in regards to the trailer you mentioned, the live-action one, I remember seeing your post on Tumblr back when I used the site, and it was a call for hispanic trans male actors. I thought it’d be interesting to hear your thoughts on the importance of the exposure of marginalized groups such as these in careers and fields of employment like acting.

Tom: Yeah, that was a weird thing that ended up happening. I wanted to cast this trailer, and this was around about the time that uh, Jared Leto, or someone was getting loads of backlash for, I think it was for playing a trans character when they weren’t trans. And it got me thinking and I was like, okay, well I wanna do a live action trailer for this game, and I’d like to cast it appropriately, so first of all there’s this character called Bertha and I actually reached out to the UK’s strongest woman, who’s just this huge hulking woman and she was like “yeah I’d love to be involved,” so that was that one down and I ordered a minigun and everything, and then I looked at this other character, called Dirk, who was a big hulking guy, and I thought, okay well what other characters have I got, and then came to Nicholas, and this character is hispanic, trans, so I guess I first and foremost wanted to approach, well, put the offer out for a hispanic trans guy, but if I didn’t get someone, then I would have cast outside of that, but I wanted to at least try?

“I guess I just wanted to write everything else.”

This ended up with a massive amount of backlash though, because people were under the assumption that I was just doing it for the voice acting which would have been completely unnecessary. The character’s already been voiced, and in the sake of the trailer they would have been redubbed with the voices from the game. But yeah, this massive amount of backlash, but I did actually, funnily enough, found a trans actor, reached out and wanted to be a part of this, so it was just “wicked, cool, great!” and there was no problem, the whole thing from the casting call to the casting took about 12 hours, and it was just over. And people got angry and anti-social-justice-y because it was outrageous, and I’ve tried to take work away from, just… ahh, so that was a thing. But yeah, so basically I had the trailer lined up, and because of the complications with the game, the trailer never actually went ahead. Really, I just wanted to cast my trailer appropriately.

 

Katatak can be purchased on the App Store and on Android for £1.49($1.99). You can see Tom’s stuff at youtube.com/tom, his Twitter @TheTomSka. You can also follow Pixel Spill Games on Twitter, @PixelSpill.